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Late Modern Life and the Rise of the "Blogosphere":
Can New Media Meet Life's New Challenges?
Lori Cooke Scott
York University and Ryerson University
Joint Graduate Program in
Communication and Culture
(Toronto, Ontario, Canada)
1694 Centre Rd.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
hm: (905) 659-2610
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Submitted to the
Association of Educators in
Journalism and Mass Communication
Critical and Cultural Studies Division
c/o: Jacqueline Lambiase, Department of Journalism
University of North Texas, Box 311460
Denton, TX 76203. Phone: 940-565-2268
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Submitted March 31, 2004
Late Modern Life and the Rise of the "Blogosphere"
Much has been written about new media practices and what they signify in
social, economic and political terms, as well as what new technologies mean
to the individual in the post-modern world. In this article I will pursue
a specific new media practice, "blogging," within a specific view of
modernity in an attempt to attach some meaning to it in terms of
individuals and society. The blog phenomenon is not causing radical
changes, but it can help us understand some important changes in the way
identity is being worked out, the way people are forming relationships and
creating communities, and how individuals are using news and information.
Specifically, I will argue that "blogging" can be interpreted as a
response to the feelings of disconnection and confusion brought about by
the forces of modernity described by Anthony Giddens in The Consequences of
Modernity and Zygmunt Bauman in Liquid Modernity, among others. Giddens
writes that in the late-modern era, we are "being caught up in a universe
of events we do not fully understand, and which seems in large part outside
of our control" (1990, pp. 2-3). Blogs, or web-based journals or personal
news and information-sharing "logs," can be interpreted as a rational human
response by a growing number of individuals to try to better understand the
rapidly changing world, and, even in a small way, exert some modicum of
control over it.
Blogs are expected to double from the estimated five million active sites
in 2003 to ten million by the end of 2004 (Perseus). I will attempt to
gain insights into the growth of this phenomenon in light of the ideas of
1) the disembedding forces of modernity; 2) the crucial role of trust
and expertise in forming relationships; and 3) the reflexivity of
individual identity that creates an ever-changing, constantly evolving
present and shift of emphasis to the future. In short, as Giddens and
others have theorized, forces in the late-modern world are affecting
society on three levels: institutional, societal and at the level of the
individual. By analyzing empirical evidence related to the practice of
blogging, as well as examining critically comments made both by bloggers
and writers theorizing about the meaning of Internet content and dynamics,
I hope to explicate some specific functions of blogs at all three of these
Giddens rejects the idea of a "post-modern" world and suggests that present
social, political and economic conditions are part of a continuing trend
that began with the Enlightenment. This shift from "one type of certainty
(divine law)" to another, "the certainty of our senses, of empirical
observation," appeared to provide "the material support for the assumption
that the new outlook on the world was founded on a firm base which both
provided security and offered emancipation from the dogma of tradition."
(1990, p. 48) But, Giddens argues,
.the seeds of nihilism were there in Enlightenment thought from the
beginning. If the sphere of reason is wholly unfettered, no knowledge can
rest upon an unquestioned foundation, because even the most firmly held
notions can only be regarded as valid `in principal' or `until further
notice.' (1990, pp. 48-49.)
The nature of these early modern developments, then, highlight the inherent
"reflexivity" in modernity that Giddens sees as the root of present-day
anxieties "which press in on everyone" (1990, p. 49). Reflexivity is at
work on multiple levels. To Giddens the modern state is a "reflexively
monitored system," the capitalist economic system is typified by its
constant need for innovation and "progress," social relations are unstable
and constantly evolving according to the realities of the moment, and the
modern individual is constantly involved in the cybernetic process of
gathering new knowledge and adapting to it by reinventing herself.
Self-reflexivity requires constant engagement in the process of
self-actualization and self-creation, placing an unprecedented level of
responsibility on the individual. The responsibility for the success or
failure of our very existence, in the present globalized world, is placed
squarely on the individual and nowhere else (du Gay, p. 120).
One of the forces producing this reflexivity is the process of
disembedding, which comes about by our day-to-day local practices becoming
linked with globalized social relations (Giddens, 1990, p. 79). This is
related to the universalization of time (with the advent of standardized
clocks and calendars), and space (with the coming of global economic
markets and communication technologies). Two specific phenomena of
disembeddedness are the adoption of universal tokens as a means of
exchange, and the prominence of "expert systems."
The establishment of money as the universal symbolic token of exchange,
supplanting tokens whose exchange value was assigned locally, is the
primary example of the former (1990, p. 24). The rise, in late-capitalism
of finance capital and the resulting necessity for the "constant increase
in the rate of accumulation" has mobilized and deterritorialized both the
economy and people (Grossberg, p. 21). This "troubling phenomenon" of
deterritorialization involves "the simultaneous penetration of local worlds
by distant forces, and the dislodging of everyday meanings from their
`anchors' in the local environment" (Tomlinson, p. 29). As Bauman puts it,
this major shift in the relation to modernity and capitalism means that
liquidity, fluidity, speed and movement become the instruments of power.
This era of "liquid modernity" disembeds without re-embedding and
deterritorializes without re-territorializing, signaling the "revenge of
the nomad" (2000, p. 13).
A shift in the role of trust in abstract, expert systems is an example of
the other phenomenon of disembeddedness. Trust is crucial in Giddens' view
of the modern condition. The concept, he argues, has undergone two major
shifts in modernity that are important to acknowledge: First, trust based
on personal contact and kinship in ancient times, sustained by traditional
rules and personal loyalty, shifted to a more impersonal kind of trust, but
one still based on human interaction. With industrialization, the
foundations of trust shifted once again to a more technical sphere, giving
rise to a trust in abstract systems, or a trust in the institutional
sources of credentials as opposed to a trust in individuals beyond those
credentials. Trust in expert systems is evidenced by the recent widespread
adoption of erectile dysfunction technologies, prompted by the message from
the medical establishment that this was a problem, and that it was a
problem science could cure. "The faith,[of those who anxiously rushed out
to get Viagara and vacuum pumps] in expert systems and scientific and
technological progress was clear" (Marshall, pp. 126-7).
This reliance on expertise, though, has been undermined in the late modern
period by growing evidence that even the experts disagree on the "Truth,"
and apparently don't really know for sure what's going on much of the
time. An example of this came when Oprah Winfrey was "famously credited
with precipitating a collapse in the sale of beef in the United States" by
remarkingon her television program that hamburgers may not be safe to eat.
John Tomlinson argues this situation.
.could be read as a rupture in the routine trust relations of global
modernity, that.need[s] to be seen as [an] irruption out of a more
chronic background process of the precarious negotiations of trust
relations with distanciated expert systems (p. 127).
The uncertainty revealed within the scientific establishment and other
abstract systems has led to a crisis in trust in which we may still rely on
expert opinion, but now the individual realizes she must be responsible for
the reliability of the expertise in which she places her trust. She may
choose to believe the government beef inspectors, the businessmen and the
politicians, or she can believe Oprah and specialists hired by activist
groups. But it is the responsibility of the individual to do the research
and take the blame if she's wrong. As du Gay argues, the discourse of
globalization redefines issues that used to be seen as collective ills of
society, such as poor health or homelessness, as strictly individual
problems for which the state or industry holds little or no responsibility
(p. 120). Thus, trust is something that must be earned, but not by the
receiver. To have trust, one must manufacture it, a task that requires
constant work, in the production of evidence, the confirmation of facts,
the exercise of judgment. This process is an integral part of the
"reflexive self" in late modernity.
To Giddens we are all perpetually engaged in what he calls "life politics,"
which, he argues, holds the key to our own emancipation. Life politics
involves a "remoralising of social life" and a "renewed sensitivity to
questions that the institutions of modernity systematically dissolve,"
(1991, p. 224). Beck calls it a process of "individualization. a
post-industrial condition where individuals have to construct their own
biographies without being able to use social norms which could give rise to
a self-evident identity" (Dahl, p. 180). Du Gay's "entrepreneur of the
self" is "individually responsible for [his] own self-advancement and care,
[and] charged with managing the conduct of the business of their own lives
(p. 120). The new responsibilities of life politics and the entrepreneurial
identity bring on all sorts of new stresses, but also can alert us to new
possibilities of governing, socializing and being.
In sum, this representation of modernity is one in which once traditional
institutions have become disembedded from time and space and social
relations have become disconnected and discontinuous. The individual is
left feeling overwhelmed by a barrage of confusing messages and new
responsibilities, abandoned by institutions and their guidance, not knowing
who to trust. But, perhaps somewhat ironically, individuals are finding
themselves with unprecedented freedom and incentive - and even the power -
to do something about it.
This project will examine weblogs as an exercise of this power in response
to the discontinuity, disembeddedness and confusion of modern life. First,
I will argue that a weblog situates one's life in a specific, new kind of
social space and anchors the individual in time, re-embedding the
individual in her culture and providing a space from which the "business"
of identity creation can be performed. Second, I will examine the nature of
personal relationships formed in the "blogosphere," where the new rules of
trust and intimacy are being made manifest by the developing conventions of
blogging. Third, I will argue that the blog phenomenon can be interpreted
as the beginning of a new form of political communication related to the
notion of "life politics" and the "entrepreneurship of the self."
Technology catches up to late modernity
Before we can examine more closely the specific practice of blogging, it
makes sense to provide an overview of broad recent changes in communication
technology that have made the blog phenomenon possible. These include the
interactivity, orality, speed, accessibility and ubiquity of the Internet,
as well as its database form of content and its network structure.
At this point it makes sense to clarify that this analysis assumes a view
of communication that transcends electronic communication and encompasses
that of, what Giddens and others refer to as pre-modern, or "traditional"
cultures. People were communicating long before mass electronic media
dominated the landscape, and I wish to include in my consideration of very
new practices what we have learned about how communication works from much
older practices. Ironically, it is very old ideas about communication
that are more useful today in conceptualizing news as a truly interactive
sharing of facts, stories and opinion. In his History of News, Mitchell
Stephens examines the information dissemination practices of several
pre-modern, pre-literate communities and points out their "human wireless
telegraphy" often "scooped" high-tech colonial news services. A study of
Internet Relay Chat and USENET interaction found "many characteristics of
an oral culture" that recreated the "immediacy of pre-literate cultures"
(December). As Stratton argues, the passive, mass communication view of the
public "is broken down in the proliferating interactivity of the Internet"
In addition to interactivity and orality, speed is another defining element
of Internet communication. The speed of telegraph messages represented the
first break of communication from transportation, fundamentally altering
the practices of business, industry and society (Carey, p. 213). The
instantaneous communication of the Internet today is an extension, or
"remediation" of that medium along with the electronic broadcast
technologies that followed (Bolter and Grusin, p.197). Using this notion of
remediation - the idea that all new media represents and incorporates
existing, older media - we can imagine how new media practices on the Web
are "remediating" old technologies all the way back to the drumbeat.
Another central feature is the ubiquity and accessibility of the World Wide
Web as a mediated space. The development of transparent programming
interfaces and pre-packaged do-it-yourself webpage building software has
made creation and development of an easily updated web page feasible for
just about anyone with access to a computer and Internet connection.
Improved data storage and compression technologies is also significant, as
it means greater opportunities for the archiving of information in many
different forms (graphic, aural, textual) for a greater span of time than
previous technologies. This capacity has created an endless "database" of
information that is available for users to search, browse and contribute to
at will. Finally, the networked structure of the Internet provides the
opportunity for the user to make unlimited and "connections" among people,
institutions, ideas and information, via hyperlinks that make those
connections, while still in a sense virtual, in another, quite concrete.
A short history of blogs
While the technology for blogging has been available since the creation of
the World Wide Web, the practice has only become widespread fairly
recently. Some veteran bloggers today have been around since the late
1990s, but many new bloggers were prompted to enter the fray as a result of
major news events like the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Beginning
the morning the airplanes hit the World Trade Center, many New York
residents began posting personal "news updates," reporting what they saw
before them to share with others hungry for new information or some
explanation of what was going on (Blood, p. 20, Garza).
Another burst came in 2003 when American troops went to war in Iraq, with
dozens of "embedded" journalists in tow. With satellite bandwidth at a
premium, many reporters took to posting periodical "dispatches" to what
came to be known as "warblogs." (Matheson and Allan). The point of view of
the "average Iraqi" also found its voice in a blog during the war. A man
who came to be known as the "mysterious Baghdad blogger" wrote engaging and
harrowing accounts of what was going on in Iraq that were read by thousands
around the world (Koppel).
This and other highly publicized blogs have raised the awareness of many
ordinary Internet users to the practice, and numerous free blogging
software providers like Blogdex, Postnuke, and Movable Type have arisen to
fulfill the demand of individuals to start their own. Other services such
as Blogger.com and iBlog provide the software, design and server spacefor a
fee. For a few dollars a year, many people register a domain name with the
name of their personal blog, creating their own addressed space on the web.
While bloggers represent a small percentage of all total Internet users
(less than three percent by one recent estimate [Lenhart, 2004, p. 5]),
some predict the number of blogs online worldwide by the end of 2004 will
surpass 10 million. Blog hosting services such as Blogger.com and
LiveJournal boast an excess of 10,000 new members every month, a number
that has been steadily increasing. The majority of blogs are short-lived
and have little or no readership at all, but there is also a growing number
of well-established, well "connected" blogs with daily readership in the
hundreds or thousands. And there are thousands more with modest, but
regular readership. Since the software and server space is inexpensive
or free, there appears to be a great deal of "churn" within the pool of
active participants. Many beginner blogs are little more than online
diaries written by teenagers to share with their friends, but the more
popular writers cover topics ranging from current events, politics,
developments in technology and culture. Many are read for their
entertainment value, such as BoingBoing.net, and many others are aimed at
audiences with specific interests, such as Librarian.net and Slashdot.org.
The blog page ordinarily displays the most current entry, with links to
previous entries on the page in reverse chronological order and/or within
subject or "threaded" groupings. A popular convention in blogging is the
solicitation of feedback. Many sites allow readers to post or email
messages in response to blog entries, which the blogger can delete, ignore,
or respond to if desired (Stauffer, p. 250). Another prominent convention
is that of syndication. Blogging software automatically maintains an "RSS,"
or "site syndication" file that allows fellow bloggers to "subscribe," or
link other blogs' entries to their own blog sites. What appears on the
typical blog page, then, in addition to content produced by the author, is
a number of dynamically produced indexed links listing the entries of all
the blogs to which she is subscribed.
A new place in time and a space on the web
As sociologist Charles Horton Cooley observed, the "impulse to communicate"
is not an afterthought, but an integral part of what defines us. In the
late modern world, carving out your own media space from which you can
formulate and express your thoughts and ideas on your own terms to the rest
of the world is an appealing concept. The new kind of space that the
Internet creates is virtual rather than geographical, but there are aspects
of this kind of "presence" that can be powerful for the creation of
personal identity and a sense of community. Cyberspace has been described as.
.quite literally a concrete space in the most precise economic sense of the
word. The speed of electrospace is its most confounding aspect; it
conflates space and time precisely because of its speed. Nevertheless,
electrospace retains its concrete spatial characteristics. It is
everywhere, all the time, at all frequencies. (Graham, p. 164).
Witness the thousands who have registered personalized domain names to
house their blogs, along with assembled artifacts of their identity:
personal histories, family photos, artwork and creative writing projects,
information and links about what they have accomplished and how they like
to spend their time. Howard Rheingold calls it "homesteading on the
electronic frontier." New technologies have growing potential for
meaningful interaction and personalization of the communication experience.
In a post industrial society, every citizen can construct her own custom
lifestyle and "select" her ideology from a large (but not infinite) number
of choices. The logic of new media technology reflects this new social
logic (Manovich, p. 42).
This is an approach to of identity we have become conditioned to accept.
Sherry Turkle points out in Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the
Internet that we have been "increasingly intertwined with the technology"
as we began to let computers do things for us and to us, "including our
ways of thinking about ourselves and other people," (p. 26). In The Second
Media Age, Poster writes that twentieth century electronic media is
promoting a "profound transformation of cultural identity," much as the
change from feudal life to a market-based society did centuries ago,
forcing people to "act and speak in new ways," (p. 23) In The Rise of the
Network Society, Manuel Castells writes of the "total isolation" of
modernity in which "the self seems irretrievably lost to itself," prompting
us to "search for new connectedness around shared, reconstructed identity"
After relating how she "rediscovered" her own interest in science because
she found herself referring frequently to stories about archeology, blogger
Rebecca Blood observes:
No matter how random or structured or impersonal a weblog may seem, each
one, whatever its nature, provides for its readers an intimate portrait of
its maintainer, a portrait drawn over time. Random observations, selected
links, extended diatribes - accumulated, these elements resolve into a
mosaic revealing a personality, a self (p. 30).
Identity is worked out and evoked by the content of the writing, but also
by the sum of all the "connections" the writer makes to other people, books
she likes, relatives, hobbies and interests, professional accomplishments,
etc. The connectivity of the Web is its central characteristic, meaning
that in such a network "the status of individual elements is determined by
their connections" (Shields, p. 150).
Blogs likewise, with their chronological, archival structure, tend to fix
the author's life in time. In contrast to earlier web page design
conventions, blog sites typically maintain a complete archive of all the
content that's been added to it over time, producing a cumulative database
of information as opposed to one in which the content is constantly revised
or deleted and renewed (Stauffer, p. 66-7). Often you will see on a blog
the evolution of a thought or argument, over time. First you might read the
latest version of a treatment of an issue, but included on the page will be
a reverse chronological list of date-stamped links to previous entries on
the same topic. Since many bloggers solicit and receive input from readers,
so you can observe how the author chose to take up some arguments and
There are also storytelling narratives about bloggers' personal lives, like
"A daily account of my efforts to lose 30 lbs by my 30th birthday" at
www.dorknet.com/weightloss, or "the reality of a teenagers soul," at
blacksorrow.diaryland.com. These stories can be read front to back, back to
front or episodically anywhere in between. They represent experiences and
identities, anchored forever in time, structured in a consistent narrative
of life. It's a story complete with sounds, movies and pictures, and
put in context in relation to other events in time; the release of movies
that you saw, or how you felt as you watched a major news event unfold.
The idea of reinventing yourself through media is closely related to the
notion of the "remediated self," which its developers say relates back to
the notion of the "empirical self" put forward by the American pragmatist
[James'] monumental Psychology (1890) was written at a moment when the
emergence and expansion of telegraph networks were producing a
reconfiguration of notions of self not unlike that which has accompanied
the growth of the Internet. As James' self is manifested through clothes,
home, and familial and social relations, the networked self is manifested
through the affiliations it makes among digital media (Bolter and Grusin
This manifestation of the self achieves a re-embedding of a person's
experiences into a specific time and space, which increasingly has been
lost in recent modernity. The space is not the terra firma of pre-modern
society, but it is a concrete, literal, new kind of space, constructed and
configured in large part by the user whose presence will reside there. The
personal "blogsite" becomes a focus of the quest for a late-modern
identity. The constantly updated, evolving blog is an apt metaphor for our
reflexive, constantly changing and reactionary identities. The blog
accurately portrays the author to herself as a "work in progress";
reminding her and others that her identity is a process, rather than a
A new basis for community
Nineteenth century philosopher Ferdinand Tonnies warned of the impending
destruction of community by advancing technology. Community, or
gemeinschaft, he explains, signifies fellowship, family, and custom;
communities bound together by understanding, consensus, and
language. Society, or gesellschaft, conversely, is signified by a form of
hyper-individualism in which relations among people become mechanical,
transitory, and contractually based. Tonnies argued that the processes of
urbanization and industrialization would result in the destruction of
gemeinschaft and consequently the destruction of traditional community,
security, and intimacy. Barry Wellman, however, takes issue with this
view. In Networks in the Global Village he writes about the potential for
computer networks to extend the reach of existing social networks. He
points to research that demonstrates the persistence of community under
debilitating conditions of rapid modernization (1999, p. 333). His
research on mediated social networks suggests that.
.even as the Net might accelerate the trend to moving community interaction
out of public spaces, it may also integrate society. The Net's architecture
supports both weak and strong ties that cut across social milieus, be they
interest groups, localitites, organizations, or nations. As a result,
cyberlinks between people become social links between groups that otherwise
would be socially and physically dispersed (1999, p. 356).
In short, he says, "When a computer network connects people, it is a social
network" (1997, p. 179). Wellman and others have argued that the Internet
has become an "embedded part of our lives" as a "community-forming
device--- a space where they may meet and interact with one another" to
"form webs of personal relationships in cyberspace," (Fox, p. 48).
This creation of a node on the map of the global Internet is the core of a
new social network that lays the foundation for a new community. The
regular, systematic sharing of collected information in blogging
communities makes this even more evident. A Maclean's article "The Intamacy
of Blogs" recounts the story of blogger Plain Layne
(plainlayne.dreamhost.com) who created a stir when fellow bloggers "flooded
cyberspace" with comments expressing concern over her whereabouts when she
neglected her blog for a few days to move to a new house. "One of the prime
reasons people blog is to make connections with others, and when Plain
Layne went missing, it was like a neighbour had just up and moved in the
middle of the night with no forwarding address," (Snider, p. 40).
Again we can look to the evolving conventions of blogging to reveal how
relationships are being worked out in this new form of communication. As
Giddens theorizes, trust in abstract systems is by its nature impersonal,
since our trust is bestowed on principals or an ideal rather than a person.
Therefore any mutuality or intimacy in the relationship is impossible. To
achieve trust today, Giddens argues, you have to earn it, and to build and
maintain trusting relationships requires mutual commitment and "mutuality
of response and involvement" (1990, p. 114). The practice of sharing
details, often intimate (an example would be the sharing private health
matters, family secrets, or controversial opinions) information about one's
life is, in effect, an invitation to others to respond with similar candor
in "a balance of autonomy and mutual disclosure" and thereby establish the
kind of "pure relationship." Moreover, Giddens argues, relationships must
be worked out and constantly renegotiated through "linked processes of
self-exploration" that help create "tightly bound .`shared histories,'"
(1991, pp. 96-7). This need helps explain the desire to solicit positive
feedback, or establishment of a common ground with others in blogs. Much
like the commercial news outlet depends on credibility to maintain trust,
individual bloggers are establishing one-on-one relationships built on
mutual credibility, authenticity and trust, with their fellow bloggers.
The rational, empirical, provable world that replaced the insecurity and
superstition of pre-Enlightenment existence is proving to be less reliable
than we once thought. So, many of us are choosing to put our faith back in
the cumulative judgment of our fellow citizens, expressed through the
confidence of hyperlinks and presented to us via our blogs and "Google." An
information science professor is quoted in the New York Times describing
the trust we place in the popular Internet search engine Google as having a
"near religious quality. A few years ago, you would have talked to a
trusted friend about arthritis or where to send your kids to college or
where to go on vacation. Now we turn to Google" (Hochman, 2004). But the
popularity of Google should not be confused with trust in just another
technological expert system. It must be pointed out that the patented
Google Web-searching software is distinct from other (at least all those
who preceded it) search engines in that it ranks pages according to links,
rather than purely by content. In other words, if you type in "squirrel
bait," another search engine will point you to the pages on the web that
contained the most occurrences of those words, possibly weighted to favor
the title or first paragraph. But a Google search will return the pages
containing those words, but ranks highest those that are linked-to most
often by other sites. In other words, Google is one provider of content on
the Internet that has figured out how deeply users value connection because
it represents a collective judgment about the content.
This fits with what Giddens calls the "reskilling/ appropriation" of
expertise (1991, pp140-41) that arises out the loss of faith in traditional
and abstract institutions. "In science, nothing is certain, and nothing can
be proved, even if scientific endeavor provides us with the most dependable
information about the world to which we can aspire. In the heart of the
world of hard science, modernity floats free," (1990, p.39). We must each
work toward the "preservation, reproduction and reconstruction of one's own
human capital" (du Gay, p. 120). Thus, the reflexive individual "reskills"
herself, approaching her life as she would an important job, and creates a
narrative of self-identity based on the informed choices she has accumulated.
This process becomes especially empowering in light of the growing sea of
knowledge that is accessible via the Internet. As part of the reskilling
process, many web researchers started looking for a way to express
themselves through the sharing of this new expertise. This "data-mining" is
a central part of the World Wide Web experience, and it forms one of the
core practices of blogging. As Blood writes in Weblogs - a history:
The original weblogs were link-driven sites. Each was a mixture in unique
proportions of links, commentary, and personal thoughts and essays. ...
Many current weblogs follow this original style. Their editors present
links both to little-known corners of the web and to current news articles
they feel are worthy of note.
A recent survey by the Pew Internet and American Life Project finds that 44
percent of Internet users are also content producers, many of those passing
along links via email, discussion groups, web sites or blogs to friends,
family members and strangers who may find them of interest (Lenhart and
The blog creates an electronic network of links and a social network of
people, people who know things about each other, share interest and
opinions; people who care what happens to each other. The connections are
part of what constitute them, and those connections help them, and others,
make a bit more sense of the world. Reading the connections provides a
source for valuable, reliable information as society loses faith in the
institutions it depended upon in the past. Just as blogs help "create"
identities, there is evidence that social relationships and a sense of
community is being created as well.
An emerging public sphere
You see a lot of "So, what do I do now?" kind of essays on blogs, as
writers find themselves in front of their computers, some even with an
audience before them. thinking about ways this new form of communication
can be transformed into something of import to the community. As many
have concluded, the blog form has great potential to reinvigorate the
deteriorating modern public sphere. As Kurt Anderson blogged,
Because we can post almost hour after hour, we can really force people to
respond or react to our claims or arguments. And it often metasticizes with
input from other readers.I can raise a subject, and within minutes, I'll
have a dozen other links, reflections, refutations on the very same topic.
Compare that description to John Locke's "law of opinion," by which men
"establish amongst themselves what they will call virtue or vice" by
conversing with each other about what they deem to be virtue or vice around
them." Or what Jurgen Habermas calls "a realm of our social life in which
something approaching public opinion can be formed" (2001, p. 102) by the
prossess of "communicatively shap[ing] and discursively clarif[ying]" the
common will (1981, p.81).
To Habermas and many others, it was changes in communication technology
that provided the key moment in the development of the modern public
sphere. The rise of "print capitalism," or the first mass-produced news
products, made it possible for the first time for the government and
private individuals to make persuasive appeals to a "public" made up of
individuals, previously restricted to the realm of the private (Habermas,
1989). Technology is once again bringing about radical changes in the
division between public and private, and the structure and dynamics of the
public sphere itself. As Jodi Dean notes, "With global media, activists can
look beyond their own states in their efforts to effect political and
social change." Joshua Meyrowitz looks at how the mass consumption of new
media technologies tends to blur the previously existing boundaries of more
"privately" consumed print media. The effect of this has been, he argues, a
fundamental shift in the public sphere where group identities,
socialization stages and ranks of hierarchy, as well as the line between
public and private, are increasingly blurred.
The blog phenomenon reveals some fresh ideas about democratic debate,
deliberation, the clarification of ideas and the creation of consensus.
Blogs also demonstrate a significant shift in the distribution of power
among members of the political and industrial elite and the masses. The
"power of the blogosphere" has become manifest in direct political action,
at least on some specific occasions. Most observers acknowledge, to give
one example, that former U.S. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott would still
be safely ensconced in his position had a few bloggers not picked up his
racist remarks at an event aired on C-SPAN and "spread the word." Blogger
Josh Marshall, who led the "get rid of Lott" charge said,
This was a story that the [established] press in DC was very well suited to
miss, because even for people who wish it were otherwise, it's been
understood for a long time that you've got various conservative Republicans
who go in for this kind of stuff. (quoted in The Guardian).
No major media outlets picked up the story until several days later, after
bloggers had mined and pooled other evidence about Lott's racist leanings
and had in effect "broadcast" the story via the Internet. As Anderson
observes, "Blogs have the ability to keep up pressure on people. The
rat-a-tat of a blog really does have an impact a one-off piece cannot."
Others have pointed to more widespread and long-term mediated social
actions, such as the WTO protest in Seattle, as evidence that the Internet
is changing the dynamics and force of political activism, beyond the
obvious reduction in costs of communication and breaking down of
geographical and temporal barriers.
In particular, we have seen how particular configurations of digital
networks facilitate: permanent campaigns; the growth of broad networks
despite (or because of) relatively weak social identity and ideological
ties; the transformation of both individual member organizations and the
growth of patterns of whole networks; and the capacity to communicate
messages from desktops to television screens (Bennett, p. 164)
This idea fits with Giddens' view that the changing global order is giving
rise to new forms of organization, which in turn makes it "reasonable to
expect that new forms of democratic involvement will tend increasingly to
emerge" (1990, p. 168).
There is great potential for the emergence of a new democratic space of
public deliberation and political action on the Web using the blog format.
But its future depends on what the individuals who reside there and want to
use it as such choose to do to make it happen.
On that note, there are two thoughts with which I would like to conclude.
One is the return to the notion that media is not inherently deterministic,
and whether this new technology will be used to empower or enslave society
will largely be up to the actions of its constituents. Craig Calhoun warns
against the decentralizing tendencies of new global media technologies.
They may serve to increase the potential for citizen participation, but
they also serve to limit opportunities for meaningful political action, by
"allow[ing] governments to avoid concentrating their power in specific
spatial locations, and thus make revolution in some ways more difficult"
(p. 373). Other "revolutionary" media have come along in the past, (e.g.
television) but mostly what they do, he argues, is enhance the power
structures already in place.
The Internet can promote civic action at global, regional or local levels
(Sassen, 2002, p. 118), but threats to its absence of hierarchy and
"distributed power" structure need to be taken seriously:
Yes, it is a space of freedom; but it is also increasingly a space of
resistance, and that means a contested space. The engagement is with some
of the most powerful and innovative global actors we have yet seen.This
feature carries enormous implications for.the conditions through which
governments and citizens can act on this new electronic world of the
economy and power (Sassen, 1999, p. 62).
So, we should approach the Internet and its effects neither with unbridled
optimism nor nihilistic gloom, but with determination to channel whatever
potential lies within for the best possible outcomes for a more democratic
society. As one author puts it, "The value of the virtual sphere lies in
the fact that it encompasses the hope, speculation, and dreams of what
could be," (Papacharissi, p. 23).
The other concluding point to be made is the centrality of the notion of a
future orientation to this subject. As Steven Jones argues, "the Web in
practice makes real the category of the future"(p. 175) bringing to bear
practices that "bring the future into the present, (p. 177). Giddens
reminds us that "[m]odernity is inherently future-oriented. Anticipations
of the future become part of the present, thereby rebounding upon how the
future actually develops" (1990, p. 177). In this analysis I have tried to
demonstrate, using the specific example of blogging, that much new media
practice is aimed at transcending the negative "consequences" of modernity,
and focused on creating a new kind of self, a new kind of community and a
new kind of politics for the future. As Giddens suggests, a successful
transcending of modern institutions would likely appear as a "renewed
fixity to certain aspects of life that would recall certain features of
tradition. reinforced by an awareness of a social universe subject to human
control.[that] interlace[s] the local and global in a complex fashion"
(1990, p. 178).
Continued attention to the sociological, cultural, economic and political
forces affecting this developing public space is clearly worthwhile,
particularly issues of who should control the space, and how equity in
access could be achieved and maintained.
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 For the sake of clarity, we will most often look to a single author,
Giddens, who has written voluminously on this topic.
 This is Giddens' language, but the notion is conceptually similar to
other theoretical notions of the contemporary social milieu, including Jon
Stratton's "hyper-deterritorialization," and Zygmunt Bauman's "light" or
 See Ulrich Beck's Risk Society. Rose summarizes "Beck's core and
optimistic argument that the only way to manage risks integral to rapid
technological change is through a radically new openness"; See also
Giddens' "Love, Commitment and the Pure Relationship," in The
Transformation of Intimacy; and Paul du Gay's concept of the "entrepreneur
of the self."
 See Giddens, "The Trajectory of the Self" in Modernity and
Self-Identity; Jones'"The Bias of the Web"; and Bauman's "Tourists and
 Du Gay doesn't advocate this view, but he argues that the dominating
discourse of globalization imposes this reality on unwitting individuals.
 See Giddens, 1990, pp. 36-40, 113-131.
 I mention this to avoid the bias of some current writing on "new
media" that is tainted by the distorted view that communication "began"
with late 19th century mass media. This is important to acknowledge in an
analysis such as this, because approaching communication from a
mass-communication-as-normative bias can seriously hinder a fruitful
examination of this topic.
 I am setting aside, here, issues of inequality and the `digital
divide.' Clearly the medium is not universally accessible to all parts of
the globe and all levels of society even within wealthier countries, but
that issue is beyond the scope of this analysis.
 See "The Database Logic" in Manovich, p. 218.
 Some examples: mikedaisey.com, joeyscoops.blogspot.com, and
 A Perseus Development Corp survey (widely publicized in the
blogosphere) counted 4.12 million blogs in the fall of 2003 on eight major
blog hosting services, including LiveJournal and Blog-City. It does not
include blogs or personal websites hosted independently. The 10 million
estimate appears to be an extrapolation of the monthly growth rates of some
of these blog hosting companies. As the survey points out, most of these
start-ups are quickly abandoned (66% of the 3,634 surveyed had not been
updated in the past two months).
 Blogstreet indexes and categorizes 144,178 blogs daily, listing the
most popular at http://www.blogstreet.com/top100.html.
 See note 12.
 Two of the most popular are InstaPundit.com (1500 other blogsites
"subscribe" or link to this one), and the Daily Dish (www.AndrewSullivan.com).
 See Hammersley for more information on how RSS, or RDF Site
 Blogcount.com links to a French blogger, Cyril, who reports the
Internic "whois" database of domain names contains 10,000 registered names
with "blog" in the title at http://www.dijest.com/bc/2003_06_23_bc.html.
 The weight loss project includes weekly photos marking the writer's
 See Hiler, Google Loves Blogs.
 Archived on Blood's weblog Rebecca's Pocket, at
http://www.rebeccablood.net/essays/weblog_history.html. Also quoted in Hiler.
 See Andrew Sullivan's (popular blog author and former New Republic
editor)"A Blogger Manifesto," at
 Marshall authors www.talkingpointsmemo.com. Lott, who is still a
U.S. senator but who was forced to resign his position as majority leader,
on December 5, 2002 remarked at fellow Senator Strom Thurmond's 100th
birthday celebration, that if Thurmond's 1948 presidential run had been
successful, America wouldn't have had "all these problems." Thurmond had
been was a vocal advocate of racial segregation. The Washington Post did
not mention the remark in their coverage of the event. The New York Times
did not mention it until its December 10 edition. Lott resigned on December
 See also Kahn and Killner. "New media and Internet activism: from the
'Battle in Seattle' to blogging."